Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Lorilee Craker's new book, Date Night in a Minivan: Revving Up Your Marriage After Kids Arrive, (Revell, 2008).
After a long day of changing diapers, helping with homework, refereeing sibling squabbles, and the countless other demands of parenting, romance may be the last thing on your mind. But without romance, your marriage will suffer. It is possible to enjoy a hot romantic relationship with your spouse while still fulfilling all your parenting responsibilities. You just have to be proactive about it.
Here’s how you can restore romance to your marriage after kids arrive:
Find common ground among your discipline styles. Clashing ways of disciplining your children will cause lots of tension between you and your spouse. So let down your defenses and seek to understand each other’s approaches. Talk about what each of your parents did well and what mistakes they made. Recognize that you and your spouse each have the same goal: to train your kids to think and behave in healthy ways. Rather than fighting against each other, remember that you’re on the same team and do all you can to support each other to work toward your common goal. Avoid criticism. Instead, ask for your spouse’s suggestions when facing a discipline problem. Try to learn from each other.
Give each other time off. A powerful way to nourish your marriage is to give each other time away from the demands of childcare on a regular basis. Take turns scheduling break times when one of you can take the kids and the other can pursue some personal enjoyment on an evening or weekend day. Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind about this; talk to him or her about what specific ways you want to get out, and when. Then plan for it!
Moms, give dads the chance to fully participate in parenting. If you’re a stay-at-home mom who spends more time with the kids than your spouse does, be careful not to assume that your way of handling parenting is the best or only way. Whenever your spouse is available, give him opportunities to fully engage with the kids, and the freedom to parent the way he wants to – without criticizing him, nagging him, instructing him, or re-doing what he does because you don’t like the way he does it. Give your spouse the time and space he needs to learn, just as you have had yourself. Accept your spouse’s different parenting style. Notice what he does particularly well as a parent, and compliment him on that. Let him know that you appreciate him as a dad.
Divide household responsibilities fairly. Figuring out who will do what chores around the house will help you and your spouse avoid power struggles that damage your marriage. Don’t keep score about which one of you is working harder at any given time. Remember that you both work hard to contribute to your family in different ways. Show respect and appreciation to each other for all of your efforts. Think about how you can serve each other rather than worrying about how you’re being served. Take a hard look at your expectations of each other’s household loads to consider whether or not they’re realistic. Sit down together to make a list of all the chores that need to get done. Discuss what’s most important to each of you, what you’re each good at doing, and what you each dislike doing. Then assign each other the chores that best fit. Don’t nag; instead, encourage each other’s efforts.
Build healthy relationships with your parents and in-laws. Do all you can to try to have positive relationships with your parents and in-laws. Set boundaries and ground rules for respect. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation for times you’ve hurt each other in the past. Work with your spouse to present a united front when communicating with them. Talk about stressful issues calmly yet firmly. Adjust your expectations to reflect the reality of who they really are – not just who you’d like them to be. Defuse negative comments with a positive attitude and humor.
Mesh your social styles well. If you’re an extrovert and your husband is an introvert – or vice versa – work on discovering how your personalities can complement each other, and how you can have fun together. Get to know what motivates both you and your spouse, and why. Don’t push your spouse to do something that makes him or her uncomfortable, like making small talk at a crowded party for an introvert or sitting on a lake fishing all day for an extrovert. Be creative about finding activities you can both enjoy together. Purposefully try to make each other feel loved and cared for.
Manage money wisely. Financial stress can erode romance quickly. Figure out what emotions like beneath the money issues between you and your spouse. Seek to understand what you each truly value, and why. Discuss how your parents viewed money and what they taught you about it growing up. Talk about your goals for saving, spending, giving, and investing. If you don’t already have a household budget, set one up. Split any leftover money between you, giving you each the right to spend it however you like. Take turns balancing your checkbook, and keep each other fully informed about the state of your finances. When dealing with disagreements over money, be humble and willing to genuinely listen to each other’s perspective. If you’re in debt, make a specific plan right away for how to pay it off. Choose a future project you’re both excited about saving for – such as a vacation, or a new kitchen – and let your shared excitement motivate you to manage all your money wisely as you save for it.
Plan your family well. If one of you wants more kids than the other one does, trying to pressure the one who doesn’t want more to go ahead anyway will cause great damage to your marriage. Recognize the spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, and financial responsibility of increasing your family’s size. Expect that each new child added to your family will take away time, energy, and money from existing family members. Trust that, if God truly wants you and your spouse to have another baby, He’ll make it clear to both of you in His timing. Give each other the time and space you need to thoroughly think and pray about the decision. Listen to each other’s concerns without getting defensive. Find another couple who has wrestled with the same issue, and see what you can learn from them. Don’t make a decision one way or the other until both of you have peace about it.
Improve your sex life. Even if you’re feeling too tired from parenting demands to think about sex, make it a priority. Realize that great sex can actually energize you by relieving stress in your marriage relationship. Schedule times for sex to enhance your bond with your spouse. Instead of waiting for your spouse to make the first move, decide to be proactive about romance yourself: Cook your spouse’s favorite meal, write a love note and leave it in his or her car, etc. Consider what activities you and your spouse found romantic before you had kids – from going to a live concert to playing miniature golf – and try those same activities again whenever you can. Turn your bedroom into a romantic zone by removing all toys and other reminders of your kids and adding some romantic items, like candles or silk pillows. Make a habit of flirting with your spouse. Don’t hesitate to discuss the specifics of what you’d like in your sexual relationship.
Show caring. Put your relationship with your spouse first, and your kids second. Do little things to help each other on a regular basis, like emptying the dishwasher or playing a game your spouse loves but you don’t like. Give each other time to pursue your individual interests. Compliment each other. Get away together on dates when you can, and use the time to do something you both enjoy. Give each other gifts. Remember that, as hard as it is to squeeze in romance during this season of heavy parenting demands, it’s worthwhile to build your relationship now so you’ll have a great marriage later on when the kids leave home and it’s just the two of you.
Adapted from Date Night in a Minivan: Revving Up Your Marriage After Kids Arrive, copyright 2008 by Lorilee Craker. Published by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com. Lorilee Craker is the author or coauthor of nine books. A frequent speaker at MOPS groups and other mom events, Craker is also an entertainment writer for the Grand Rapids Press. A native of Canada, she lives in West Michigan with her husband and three children.